Published in the Chronicle section, Tallahassee Democrat, Tallahassee, FL, 1/23/2020
When I joined Toastmasters in April of 2016, my objective was to enhance my communication skills and hopefully transform myself into a more proficient speaker. I knew that it would be a challenge, but I also knew that it was one that I needed to take on in order to accomplish my professional goal of becoming a respected motivational speaker.
That first year was a grinding time for me. I enthusiastically welcomed every opportunity to speak and tried to soak up every bit of knowledge that was offered to me as well as what I overheard being given to anyone else. I would later put those skills and techniques learned to great use by giving speeches to the huge audiences that only existed in the concert halls of my mind.
What I did not know was that all those lessons and practices would fast-track my journey.
I also tried to soak up the leadership aspect of the Toastmasters program. One of the more endearing qualities continually displayed by the leaders of the Early Bird Toastmaster club was how they encouraged others to help and then reinforced their encouragement by volunteering themselves to help wherever necessary.
In taking on the challenge of following in their footsteps, 10 months after joining Toastmasters I decided to enter the club’s International Speech Contest, and I found myself encouraging other newer members to enter the contest as well. My words to them were, “It is an opportunity to challenge yourself and put to use all that you have learned.” Afterwards, each of those members expressed to me how happy they were that they had entered the contest.
I too was happy and excited especially since I won first place!
I continued to win and advance through the next two contests levels. With the third win, I earned the opportunity to compete in the District 84 Toastmasters championship, which was to be held in Orlando Florida. A win there would mean being able to compete for the 2017 world Champion of Public Speaking in Vancouver, Canada.
Was I excited about the opportunity? Yes!
I had about four weeks to get ready. Those first two weeks I studied and practiced every single day. However, that third week I developed a cough, and by the beginning of the fourth week, my doctor diagnosed me with a variation of the flu. The district Champion speech competition was to be that Saturday, and the Monday preceding the contest I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t even get out of bed.
This meant I was no longer able to practice. Although unexpected, I had worked hard for this opportunity. What was I to do? I knew that my Toastmasters family expected me to go and do my very best, and regardless of everything, I was determined to do just that.
Despite my resolve, on Tuesday I was feeling even worse. Over the next two days, I sent up more prayers and put in more doctor calls than at any time of my life. By Thursday I was on the mend and no longer contagious, but I was still experiencing some shortness of breath.
When Friday rolled around, I was still medicated, but I was ready. At least, this is what I told myself. When Saturday came and it was time for the competition, I vowed that whatever happened, I would give it everything I had.
Before I knew it, the Contest Master was calling my name and announcing the title of my speech.
“W.C. Blackmon. ’The Day the Chickens Disappeared. The Day the Chickens Disappeared.’ W.C. Blackmon.”
There have been many books written, documentaries recorded, and debates orated on what makes a champion, and I have no doubt that most, if not all of these, have great merit. However, I also have no doubt that every sportswriter, athlete, coach, film producer, scientist, and human being will agree, that the opportunity to “be” will never take place if one doesn’t take on the challenge. It is, after all, the challenge itself that is the opportunity.
That Saturday night in Orlando, I walked off that stage as a champion! The judges of the contest said as much, but I say this - Every single individual that competed that night was a champion, because when you accept the challenge as the opportunity to do and be your best, you become a champion not just of that particular thing, but also, a champion in life. I ask you enlightened reader, what challenges are you accepting today that will continue to make you the Champion that you are?
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W.C. Blackmon, aka Bobby, is a member of Early Bird Toastmasters Club since April 2016 and Club Coach of Podemos Hablar since June 2019. Bobby is an author, motivational speaker, and artist. Learn more about W.C. Blackmon at Wcblackmon.com | For inspiration, visit his blog at wcblackmon.com/blog